Title: Sparrow Girl
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrator: Yoko Tanaka
Publisher: Disney - Hyperion Books
Concepts: natural resources, famine, scarcity
Review: In 1958, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s initiated the Great Sparrow Campaign, a massive effort to eliminate all of China’s sparrows, which he blamed for eating too many grain seeds and causing hardship for China’s farmers. He ordered all the peasant to bang pots and pans and to have noise parades to frighten the birds away.
The decision saddened and frightened Ming-Li, a young girl living in the country-side, who liked sparrows and wondered about the consequences of the decision and if there was another way to save the crops. Her fears proved fully grounded. Sparrows not only ate grain, they also ate locusts and worms, and the decimation of the sparrow population contributed to an enormous growth of locusts and the start of China’s terrible famine. Ming-Li was too young and small to stop these major events, but her love of sparrows did lead to a powerful action that would bring hope to her village and new-found respect from her father.
Readers of all ages will appreciate Sparrow Girl for its informative account of an important event in China’s Great Leap Forward and its lesson about the dangers of upsetting the environment’s ecological balance. The rich illustrations make this work of historical fiction all the more memorable.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children